Wine And Art Meet At Mouton Estate

Red wine Sotheby's
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A few weeks ago at Sotheby's in New York it wasn't fine art on the auction block. It was fine wine and it sold for $260,000. The oversized bottle is called a Jeroboam of 1945 Mouton, one of more than 150 lots sold of Chateau Mouton Rothschild from the private cellar of Baroness Philippine de Rothschild.

The total sales for the auction were $2.2 million. Baroness Philippine took over the family business of making Mouton in 1988. It is viewed as one of the finest wines in the world.

The Mouton estate, over 200 acres in the Bordeaux region of France, has been in her family for five generations, dating back to her great-great grandfather, the banker Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild.

"Wine collectors are crazy people," de Rothschild told Sunday Morning anchor Charles Osgood. "I mean, they are absolutely passionate about what they do. Yes, in fact, it's a bit of a twist. Because mouton, the real translation of mouton is sheep but I think a ram is much more a more elegant animal."

But almost as memorable as the wines are the labels. When collectors of Chateau Mouton Rothschild talk about "a very good year" they're not just talking about what's in the bottle, they're talking about what's on the bottle.

For nearly 60 years, Chateau Mouton Rothschild has produced extraordinary wine and equally extraordinary wine labels by some of the great artists of the twentieth century.

And after 25 years of traveling around the world, a show of the paintings on which the labels are based was a part of the Sotheby's event, complete with a ceremony to unveil the label that will grace the 2004 vintage. It's a watercolor by Prince Charles.

De Rothschild's father was the first person to put art on wine bottles, she said. Baron Philippe de Rothschild, who put the family in the wine business in 1922, commissioned the artist Jean Carlu to design a label in 1924. But it wasn't until 1945, after World War II, that the practice of making designer labels stuck.

"My father said, we must put something on the label to celebrate and that is why on the label of 1945 is the 'V,' Churchill's 'V' for victory it was such a success that my father said, 'oh well, I'm going to ask my friends, my friends artists, to do something,'" de Rothschild said.

Friends like Jean Hugo, Victor Hugo's great-grandson, the poet Jean Cocteau and the surrealist painter Leonor Fini and then in 1955.

"The great Georges Braque, internationally known, said, 'I would like to make a label, to make a drawing for this man, Philippe Rothschild, who's doing something so interesting and amusing.' and my father, of course, with open arms, said, 'well, of course,'" Rothschild said. "And at the minute Braque had decided, he was such an enormous, you know, brouhaha. everybody came. All of the great painters accepted."

Painters like Andre Masson, Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall and Joan Miro sculptors like Henry Moore and Richard Lippold and even illustrator Saul Steinberg and pop artist Andy Warhol have created art for the bottle.

"Andy Warhol didn't just do what he's told. which is normal for Andy," de Rothschild said. "This one thing that is told to the painters, they can do whatever they want, but horizontally because of the shape. The shape, exactly. but he didn't paint them that way. Warhol did these beautiful portraits of my father, three of them, but vertical, so we had to lay my father down on the label."

Some works were reproduced after the artist's death, like these labels from Pablo Picasso and Vassili Kandinsky. And then there was Balthus.

"Very respectable ladies in the west coast said I was doing kiddie porn, which I think is a little bit much, don't you think? Simply because the work of art of Balthus shows a nude girl. but nude is a from of art," de Rothschild said. "Well, the wine that came to the United States, people ask me in my company, 'well, how do we replace Balthus?' and I said, 'you don't replace Balthus. you just take the thing away!' So the great thing for all the people who were wine lovers was to get the two labels."